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New guide aims to ensure school expeditions are accessible to all students

Matt Eastlake, managing director of World Challenge Group, writes:

In most cases, to get the best out of adventure travel during school, a person needs to be well prepared and relatively fit. Unfortunately, what I am currently seeing among students is that the levels of preparedness and more especially general fitness seem poor and in decline.

In 2012, as part of the application process, World Challenge started to ask students for their height and weight in order to calculate body mass index (BMI). Taken in isolation, BMI is simply one indicator of a person’s general build, but when combined with results of a recognised fitness test the resultant information becomes quite powerful.

Having now collated the results from several thousand students we have found 9% of applicants to be in the obese and overweight categories and 7% are considered underweight. A significantly lower statistic than that reported in UK-wide BMI data, never-the-less an area which demands greater insight and understanding.

Of course, people can be considered to be over or underweight based on BMI and still be fit; and be ideal weight and not be fit. This was reflected in 2014, when in more than 1,000 pre-trip fitness tests, 20% of all World Challenge participants failed the first bleep fitness test we use to see if the student can cope with the rigours of the trip. This result was surprising and was also across all BMI categories.

Adventure travel should be something all students can access, but poor levels of fitness and health can mean some students are excluded. Schools may feel taking these students is too risky, while unfit students that do attend will not get the most out of the experience and could also hold others back from fully enjoying the trip.

This state of affairs should not simply be accepted. With early planning and commitment, teachers can ensure all students have the best chance of being able to attend.

The important learning from our tests, especially given they are conducted early in the planning process, is that there is plenty of time for students to improve their level of preparedness, whether that be by losing (or gaining) weight or most often a combination of routine fitness and healthy eating.

Teachers can negate some of these issues, as proved by our own results. By providing training and health advice, students can improve. In our 2014 group, a second fitness test three months later saw 25% pass and a further fitness test in three months time is expected to see an even higher number pass.

Teachers need to ensure they themselves are fit too and can pass the test. It is important to lead by example.

To help teachers, we have published a pre-trip guide - available to all TES Connect users - that walks schools through preparation for rigorous expeditions. Below are three key points the book makes:

1. Establish clear personal objectives
2. Commence preparation early in the programme
3. Work as a team to ensure everyone gains the very most from the expedition

Adventure travel is an essential part of a student's education, broadening horizons and embedding crucial skills. Getting an early start on fitness preparation will ensure no one is excluded from these experiences. 

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